To Cleanse or Not to Cleanse

To cleanse is to be rid of something that is seen as unclean or unwanted.

To detox is to be rid of potentially poisonous, dangerous substances.

There are supplements on the market, in the form of liquids, powders, and pills, that claim to cleanse or detoxify the body. The funny thing about this is that you have an organ built specifically for this role. Your liver.

The liver is a large and resilient organ. One of its main roles is to detoxify. On an ongoing, as needed bases, without breaks, the liver filters and stabilizes byproducts of digestion, metabolism, protein synthesis, and other body processes to keep them from harming you. And it has been performing this role for you your whole life! It has been performing this role for every human that ever lived. Do you really think that a man-made dietary product could do as good a job as your liver to cleanse you?

Furthermore, the liver is backed up by the colon, the kidneys and the lymph system to help be rid of waste or potentially harmful substances that enter or are produced in the body. You are well equipped to cleanse yourself!


Short term studies looking at dietary supplement use and/or low calorie diets have shown a decrease in subjects body weights and improved health related lab values overall. They have NOT shown a flushing of toxins from the body.

A few of these studies are listed below for your reading pleasure. The studies do not use the same supplements, the same population of people, the same caloric intakes or exactly the same food intakes, and they are short term (one month or less). This makes it hard to compare the protocols and conclude that any one product or diet style is best; there is no way of knowing if it was the supplement used, or the fact that the subjects were eating less that made the impact. Furthermore, there is no way to know what the affects of long term use might be that could negatively affect weight and healthy status.

So why was there improved health seen in a diet that included a cleanse supplement component? What do these study designs all have in common that we can learn from?

  1. Regimented
  2. Accountable
  3. Good nutrition

None of these things are so special that they cannot be adapted as healthy habits without buying a product. And you do not have to starve yourself or spend a lot of money to accomplish them.

veggies with colorIf you want to naturally help your liver and accessory organs cleanse or detox your body here are some guidelines you can follow that do not include spending any money on supplements, and will likely yield the same results.

  1. Sleep.

    • Your organs are working in your favor as you are not moving or eating.
  2. Drink water.

    • Waste and byproducts are removed from the body through the kidneys via urine. Water and fluids are necessary to make this happen efficiently.
  3. Eat less and/or less often.

    • To ensure fewer production of byproducts and oxidative (free radical) compounds that have the potential to damage cells and tissue. The more and more often you eat, the more free radicals will be formed.
    • This does not mean starve yourself, this means be mindful of intake; eat when hungry and don’t overdo it.
    • This does mean less added sugars and fats; nutrients that are hard on your liver in large quantities and have the potential to settle as fat droplets in liver cells.
  4. Consume high level of antioxidants.

    • From berries, dark green veggies, herbs and spices, teas, fish, nuts and seeds, avocado (plus intake of a variety of produce on a daily basis). These act to stabilize oxidative byproducts of eating, breathing, and exercise.
  5. Feed healthy bacteria in your gut.

    • There are hundreds of bacteria living in your large intestines, or colon. This is a good thing! Among other roles, healthy bacteria living in your colon means there is no room for harmful, unhealthy bacteria to live.
    • Fiber from vegetables, fruits, whole grains.
    • Yogurt, kefir, kombucha, fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi.
  6. Intake alcohol in moderation or not at all.

    • Your liver must metabolize and be rid of ethanol before it worries about other body processes. The breakdown of ethanol produces free radicals (must eat more antioxidants)!
    • To add insult to injury, chronic alcohol intake destroys antioxidants that would otherwise be there to stabilize the byproducts of its breakdown.

Now, it is not reasonable to think that everyone will follow the above guidelines ALL THE TIME. That is fine. I encourage you, however, to regularly check in with how you are doing to meet these and to rein it in if you know you are acting in ways that is putting extra strain on the liver and other organs of the body. Give your body a break and some time to do its job.

Is there a place for supplements?

Well, yes. As long as you realize they are not the cure all, you can use them effectively if you wisely choose to do so. I do want to emphasis that IF you do chose to use supplements, for “cleansing” or otherwise, do your research on the manufacturer and purity of the product. Ironically, a cleanse supplement might contain contaminants that could put a further burden on your liver.

So, why might you want to use a meal replacement or similar product? For the same reasons that the studies above showed success with them:

  • Regimented

    • Less thinking; less planning, prepping and cooking for meals or snacks.
    • More doing; feel accomplished by taking a more drastic approach to your health than just eating regular old healthy meals (how boring).

 

  • Accountable

    • You are invested with real money.
    • Many products and companies have support systems in place.

 

  • Good nutrition

    • Fill in gaps where nutrients might be missing on a limited or self-restricted diet.

*Special circumstances per individual should be considered when following these guidelines. If you have any questions to this regard, please contact a dietitian!

References:
Maher, J. (1997). Exploring Alcohol’s Effects on Liver Function. Alcohol Health and Research World, 21(1), 1-8.

Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School (2011). Abundance of Fructose not Good for the Liver, Heart. Online at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/abundance-of-fructose-not-good-for-the-liver-heart

Harvard Health Publications. (2008). Detox Diets, Procedures Generally Don’t Promote Health, Experts Say. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 6, 2016 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080428170407.htm

In favor of supplements and diet cleanse:

Callahan, E. (2013). Changes in weight loss and lipid profiles after a dietary purification program: a prospective case series. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 12(1), 30–38. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcm.2012.11.004

Balliett, M., & Burke, J. R. (2013). Changes in anthropometric measurements, body composition, blood pressure, lipid profile, and testosterone in patients participating in a low-energy dietary intervention. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 12(1), 3–14. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcm.2012.11.003

Keogh, J. B., & Clifton, P. M. (2012). Meal Replacements for Weight Loss in Type 2 Diabetes in a Community Setting. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2012, 918571. http://doi.org/10.1155/2012/918571

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